Bear Road Neighbourhood and the Bedford Hotel

Bear Rd has an average gradient of 1:11 and a maximum of 1:8, and formed part of the boundary between Brighton and Preston until 1928. It took its name from the Bear Inn, a centre for bear and badger-baiting in the late 18th century; bear-baiting was legal until 1835.

On Bear Hill to the north of Bear Rd once stood the Bear Mill and, at the top of Bear Rd, stood the Race Hill Mill. The area to the north of Bear Rd, sometimes known as East Preston as it formed the easternmost part of that parish, was developed from the early 1900s and many of the road names have Boer War connections — e.g. Ladysmith and Mafeking roads. Most of the housing — 58% — is terraced and a high proportion of it (26%) is rented out as student accommodation — to the chagrin of owner-occupiers, who regularly complain about a variety of nuisances caused by this, including rubbish in the street and noise.

The parish church of the area, St Alban’s in Coombe Rd, was built in 1910-14 by Lacy W Ridge, in Early English style; on May 15 1974, the parish was merged into the new parish of the Resurrection. The parish room at the corner of Bear Rd and Riley Rd was built in 1902-3.

The lower part of Coombe Rd was dominated by two large factories on either side of the road. The southern one (Tyreco Ltd) was erected in 1917 for National Diamond Factories (Bernard Oppenheimer) Ltd, and ex-WWI servicemen who had lost limbs were employed there. The building was eventually occupied by Allen West and Schweppes in 1927 and, in 1945, by CVA Tools; this company was taken over by Kearney & Trecker in 1966 and the Coombe Rd factory closed in 1973.

In October 2000, the building was converted into deco flats; prices then were £87,500 for a 1- bedroom flat, £164,950 for 2-bedroom; in late 2009, a 1-bed flat cost £146,000. The impressive building opposite, now the Big Yellow Storage Company, was erected in 1918 as another diamond factory, and then became the home of Dentsply, one of Europe’s largest false teeth manufacturers, which closed in 1991.

Other businesses in the area included artificial limb makers Pedestros Ltd at 18 Coombe Rd Ltd and, at no.16, Brighton Asbestos Manufacturing Co Ltd. Nowadays, the Bear Rd area is dominated its cemeteries and crematoria, including the historic Extra-Mural Cemetery. Bevendean Hospital in Bevendean Rd closed in April 1989; it was demolished and the Sussex Beacon was erected, along with some housing.

The Bedford Hotel, 137 King’s Rd, was designed by Thomas Cooper and opened in 1835. It was considered the most distinguished late-Georgian building in Brighton after the Royal Pavilion. It had five storeys with two recessed Ionic porticoes facing south and west above the entrances, while the west wing was built back from the road and was decorated with giant pilasters. Inside was a Grecian hall with Ionic columns and a glazed dome.

The original Bedford Hotel was opened in October 1829 for William Manfield who, in 1835, leased it to the designer, Thomas Cooper; Manfield bought the lease back the following year and ran the hotel himself until 1844, when he leased it to Joseph Ellis.

In 1855, Ellis purchased the Bedford outright, and established it as the town’s leading hotel for the accommodation of royalty, the fashionable and the famous. Its guests included French Emperor Louis-Philippe, Louis Napoleon, Jenny Lind and Lord Palmerston. In 1963, the hotel was bought by AVP Industries Ltd, who said they wanted to replace it with a modern 14-storey tower block. On April 1 1964 — just two months after Brighton Council refused to make a preservation order on the hotel — the building was partly destroyed by fire. Two people lost their lives: guest Mrs Elizabeth Reed and hotel worker, Mrs Montserrat Gorriz. The hotel’s manager, John Ratcliffe, had the presence of mind to rescue a display for letters, written by Charles Dickens during his visits to the hotel, from a display cabinet on the ground floor.

A replacement Bedford Hotel — rather different in character to its predecessor — opened on September 16 1967. Designed by R Seifert and Partners, the 17-storey, 168 feet tall building was the first major new hotel development in the town for over half a century. It became the Hilton West Pier and Bedford Towers, and is now the Holiday Inn.